GOD’S SILVER LINING Isaiah 7–12
“For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders” (Isa. 9:6).Dark clouds hung on the international horizon when Isaiah spoke the words recorded in these chapters. But three times the sun broke through, as Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah who would set all things right.
The international scene.
The states of Syria-Palestine, led by Pekah of Israel (Samaria) and Rezin of Syria (Damascus) forged a coalition of kings to resist Assyria. Ahaz of Judah refused to join, and the two kings threatened to invade Judah. In desperation Ahaz sent envoys to offer the Assyrians a large bribe to attack Syria and Israel before the two local powers could attack him! This strategy backfired. Assyria accepted the bribe, and overwhelmed Judah’s enemies, but then invaded Judah as well! Today’s text describes a confrontation between Isaiah and Ahaz, as the prophet announced that God would protect Judah from Pekah and Rezin. Told to ask God for a sign, Ahaz refused. He would not trust God, but insisted on turning to Assyria, thus sealing the devastation of his homeland as well as the destruction of his enemies! Isaiah’s words in this situation are a healthy reminder for you and me when we find ourselves in difficult situations, and look about desperately for a way out. “Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the One you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear, He is the One you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary” (Isa. 8:12–14).
A reluctant Ahaz was given the sign of Immanuel (7:1–16), and told that Assyria, on whom he relied, would bring devastation to Judah (v. 17–8:22). Yet a Child identified as “Mighty God” would be born and reign on David’s throne (9:1–7), but not before the wickedness of Israel, Judah, and Assyria have been punished (v. 8–10:19). The survivors of Judah would rely on the Lord (10:20–34), and Messiah will establish God’s righteous kingdom worldwide (11:1–12:6).
Understanding the Text
“The virgin will be with Child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel” Isa. 7:1–16. “Immanuel” is a Hebrew construction that means “God with us.” Actually, it is an unusual construction that makes the point: “WITH US is God!” Isaiah would not have understood the full significance of the name. Yet it, as well as other names given the Messiah in this section of Isaiah, made it clear that the promised Child was to be both human and divine. Thus Matthew referred to this prophecy when he described Jesus’ conception not by any human father but by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:23). The promise was a sign to Ahaz, in that it identified a period of time within which his enemies would no longer threaten him. From conception to birth is nine months; from birth to weaning to solid food was typically two to three years. So Ahaz was told that within three years the kings he feared would no longer be a threat. And the “whole house of Israel” was invited to watch David’s line for a Virgin Birth, and told that the Child would be the promised Deliverer. Each of the three great messianic visions in these chapters dates some 700 years before the birth of Christ! Cast against the background of Israel’s and Judah’s troubled times, they remind us that the Lord is in complete control of history. Whatever happens to us today, our future is secure, for tomorrow is in God’s hand. “The Lord will bring on you” Isa. 7:17–8:22. The Assyrian invasion of Israel and Judah reminds us that God can use even wicked people to accomplish His purposes. Yet the passage reminds us of something else. What makes us vulnerable to the wicked is our own sin. Isaiah portrayed his fellow countrymen consulting mediums and spiritualists rather than God, as abandoning the Law, and as people who when distressed curse God rather than seek forgiveness. Holding tight to the Lord is our only protection against “distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (8:19–22). “To us a Child is born” Isa. 9:1–8. The Child to be born was a Son, given us as a gift by His Father. He is called “Mighty God” as well as Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace. The name “Everlasting Father” is more likely “Father of Eternity.” Each of these names makes it clear that the promised Messiah is no ordinary human being. What no natural descendant of David could do—uphold the kingdom “with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever”—this miraculous Descendant who is God as well as man, will accomplish. Names like these help us appreciate just who Jesus is. We sense the warmth of His love as we walk with Him through the Gospels. But Isaiah reminds us that our gentle Jesus is Father of Eternity, One whose elemental power has shaped and still upholds our universe. “His anger is not turned away” Isa. 9:8–10:4. What makes a person angry, as well as what he loves, is a key to understanding his character. What makes God angry? Isaiah tells us, as he pronounced, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and rob My oppressed people of justice, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (10:1–2). If these same things in our society make us angry, then our hearts are in tune with God. “I will punish the king of Assyria” Isa. 10:5–19. Is it fair for God to punish Assyria, which He Himself chose to discipline His people? The answer again reveals the delicate balance that Scripture maintains between divine Sovereignty and human free will. God permitted the rise of Assyria so that nation might discipline His people. But Assyria chose to use the power given to it “to destroy” (v. 7). Assyria became proud, as though God were not the source of its might. Assyria is not being punished for having the power God gave it, but for its pride and misuse of God-given power. God isn’t to blame for the way any person or nation uses the wealth or power He grants. God gives us the freedom to choose how to use His gifts—but holds us responsible for our choices.
We Live in Hope (Isa. 11–12)
One of the best movies I’ve seen in several years is Dead Poets’ Society. It tells the story of a teacher who challenges students at an exclusive private school to think for themselves—with tragic results. One young man finds the courage for the first time to do what he wants rather than what his father demands. He acts in a play. His angry father takes him out of the school, tells him he has to spend the next 10 years studying for a medical career, and forbids him to ever act again. That night, unable to face such a future, the young man takes his father’s gun and commits suicide. That’s a strange thing about suicide. Most people who kill themselves do so because they feel hopeless. Most who kill themselves don’t do so because of some terrible present lack. They have money, food, clothing, shelter, and friends now. It’s just that looking ahead, they can’t see any meaningful future. Isaiah 11 and 12 remind us that it’s just the opposite for true believers. The believer of Isaiah’s day faced imminent danger from powerful foreign enemies. His society was marked by injustice; many may well have been homeless and hungry. Yet what Isaiah offered God’s people was a vision of the future. A descendant of David (11:1) will appear, to establish righteousness on earth (vv. 2–5). In His day nature itself will be at peace (vv. 6–9). All the hostile world powers that have threatened Judah will rally to Israel’s Messiah, and the Lord will “reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people” (vv. 10–16). Then God’s people will know the full meaning of salvation, and will together sing praises and give thanks (12:1–6). Inspired by this vision of the future, the believer was filled with hope. How strange it is. The suicide, who has everything needed for life on earth, kills himself because he can’t face the future. Yet many a believer who has suffered persecution or lacked life’s necessities has lived victoriously because his hope is fixed in God. In Christ, the future is never truly bleak. Beyond whatever darkness we face, we know there lies a glorious tomorrow.
Rather than hope for some thing, hope in God.